“We always want to take it seriously and that’s the concern and maybe perhaps a student isn’t aware that something that may be a joke will be taken seriously,” said Rockford University Assistant Professor of Psychology Onna Brewer, on the high volume or threats made against stateline schools.
“Educators want to create a safe environment for learning, and part of that perception of safety is the reality. How do we know that this is an empty threat or something that is not reality based?,” she added.
In under a week, four different threats have been made against area high schools. Two of those happened at Belvidere North. A 15 and 16 year old were taken into custody, charged with felony disorderly conduct. Prosecutors warn even if a threat isn’t real, the punishment is.
“(it) Would be a Class 1 Felony punishable by 4 to 15 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections,” said Marilyn Hite Ross, Chief of the Criminal Bureau for the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office. The subject, much more compelling after 17 students and faculty were killed two weeks ago at a Florida high school, when a shooter opened fire on the grounds.
“Any effort at impacting other people is an effort to connect in some way,” Brewer said. She adds threats can be made for a variety of reasons. Some may be made to avoid class, while others are a cry for help. “They are either communicating, ‘I am unhappy with my school environment, I’m unhappy with my home environment, I’m unhappy with the response that I have been receiving at school for a variety of reasons’,” Brewer said.
For the students who do mean harm, Brewer adds other than law enforcement getting involved, intervention is needed to help those students who are struggling. “Reaching out to them saying we notice a change, that we are concerned and communicating that concern,” she said.
Hite Ross adds the penalties for a Class 1 Felony are the same for juveniles, but sentencing doesn’t always include jail time. An option could be counseling.